One of the biggest challenges in terms of parenting an adolescent is sometimes understanding what is going on with them. I have found that in my own experience that it's helpful to understand roughly what the parameters are. Knowing that your kids are not anomalies, even if they are frustrating, is a comfort. I've spoken with many parents over the years in my capactiy as a teacher who were suprrised and relieved to find out that their child's behaviors (or misbeahviors) atually conform to some pretty well established patterns of adolesence. Knowing doesnt' fix it, but it can help you adapt better and address things. It also give you a sense of what battles are important and winnable and what you should let slide.
So, in that spirit, let me offer some large generalizations about the different ages I teach--
6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
Obviously, this is based on my experience. I don't purport that these are universal. They're just my observations. Also, remember that every group has outliers, and so even if an observation is true for most 7th graders, it will generally be not be true for every single person in that group.
One other thing to add: some changes are developmental, based on biology--most 13 year olds will act certain ways, for example, but some of it is alos based on envirnoment and culture. I teach in a K-8 school, and that has impact. An 8th grader in my school, fo exampe, is treated like a senior, and so will probably demonstrate more respnsibility and confidence than some 8th graders who who go to 7-9 or 5-12 schools.
If, after all those disclaimers, you are still reading, I'll start with 6th graders.
6th graders are really quite fun. You might start seeing some puberty-driven tempestuousness or cluelessness, especially towards the end of the school year. But, on the whole, 6th graders are actually quite sweet. They are young enough and sweet enough to generally want to please adults--not yet too cynical or sarcastic. They are old enough to actually be able to do good work and perform at a reasonably high level and show some independence.
If your child hits puberty on the early side, you might not see this. They might be disorganized, truculent, and overly-emotional. Do not fear! That just means they are on the early side of things. It will even out. And, next year, while all their peers's parents are tearing their hair out, you will hit some stability.
They are generally not truly involved romantically. Some of the more socially precocious may imitate older peers or siblings by having a boyfriend or girlfriend, but this is generally simply a social convention and doesn't have a deep-seated emotional or physical attachment. Most of what I observe them doing in boy and girl relationships is simply mimicry, based on what they've seen.
Depending on whether they are the oldest in a K-6 school or the youngest in a different model, you will see some variation in this. In a K-6 school, the fact that they are the kings of the place might lead to some more confidence or brashness.
6th grade is usually the transition year to adolescence--you will start to see them assert more autonomy. They might begin to dress or style their differently--less like a child and more like a young adult. They may show (or feign) an interest in music or movies that everyone else is seeing.
The influence of the peers will be significant and you will probably see your own influence rapidly decline while that of their peers increases. In almost every class or grade, there will be a few kids who have older siblings and are therefore initiated into the coolest clothes, music, and so forth. Everyone else will start following their example to various degrees.
I see most 6th graders as somewhat analogous to small children who dress up in their parent's clothes. The clothes don't fit and it's obvious there's a mismatch. 6th graders start trying to look and act like teenagers. It doesn't fit them, and it's obvious. Most likely they will have some fashion or cosmetic misfires, the memory of which will haunt them forever. They are, for the most part, teenage impersonators--going through the motions without totally understanding what they are doing.
They will still show genuine emotion and are generally not too guarded about that. They haven't quite internalized the rule that cool means being casual and calm and never getting excited about anything.
For that reason, they are fun to teach and you don't have to work so hard to coax them in to trying new things or getting them excited about a concept or book or piece of music.
Socially, the girls start buzzing around a Queen Bee or two and the girls tend to start to be very socially hierarchical. I'm convinced that they don't mean to be unkind--they are just very, very thoughtless, for the most part, and don't think about who their actions might effect others. They generally aren't actively mean, but will neglect and ignore people. Part of this is driven by an increasing sense of insecurity--they often don't feel strong enough to reach out to others.
Boys tend not to be quite so stratified yet. Boys group themselves, usually, by whatever team or activity they do, and are fairly open. They tend to be a little less exclusive on those terms. They also tend to be a lot more energetic. A. LOT.
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Thoughts about raising and teaching adolescents. You can read the complete series here. (What in the world are Middle School Mondays?) Click here.
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